Olivia Parker
Sep 14, 2018

Workplace offenses occur because globalisation "forces different cultures together" without enough preparation

As a follow-up to reactions around our interview with Delmus Credle, who left BBDO China because of what he claimed was an intolerant atmosphere, we invited three industry guests to our office to debate how well workplaces really handle diversity in Asia.

Campaign Asia-Pacific hosted three guests in our Hong Kong office to discuss whether the advertising industry in Asia has a problem with tolerance toward different genders, ages, ethnicities and more—despite the region so frequently championing its 'proudly diverse' credentials. 

The debate was a response to an interview with Delmus Credle, former head of planning at BBDO China, that we published on August 28 (see "The ugly truth about why I left BBDO China after just a year'). Reader reactions included both support for and sympathy with Credle's experiences as well as claims that he was "overly sensitive" or "took things the wrong way". 

Rex Lam, head of marketing at Honestbee, who has spent five years working in Greater China markets, said he's encountered similar situations to Credle's before. While he believes that "everyone [in China] is having good intentions", he agrees that China is in general a less diversified market than others. "The Chinese are more used to working with Chinese, so they feel more comfortable working with Chinese in a lot of circumstances." 

Leo Brem, MD of Admark Asia Group, also said he'd heard similar stories before but that "this is the first time it's been blown up like this". Brem is "very sympathetic" to Credle's situation, he says, having himself encountered unfamiliar cultural traditions that have been hard to navigate.

He related one learning experience when he worked many years ago for a Danish firm (Brem was born and raised in Denmark to a Danish father and a Filipino mother) with a warehouse in Paris where it was customary for all employees to greet each other daily with handshakes and, sometimes, the French bisous. When Brem worked for the same firm in Bangkok, he unwittingly offended some female employees there by going to shake hands with them. "They took their hands back right away, because you don't touch", said Brem. 

Learning to navigate such nuances and their potential to offend is a side-effect of globalisation, said Jacquie Barratt, the CEO and founder of Salt. Originally a New Zealander, Barratt now works across eight different markets including Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore and says that while some of these might be classified 'Western' and some 'Eastern', it's important to note that all are very different. Asia cannot be discussed as one country, Barratt stated. 

"We’ve been talking now for years about this borderless community, right, that globalisation...we can all move anywhere, we can go and live anywhere. But the fact is, as a result of that and wanting more diverse workforces, we do bring therefore different traditions, different cultures, different languages, different ways of operating and we’re trying to force it all to work together." 

Diversity should be encouraged, said Barratt: but both individuals and companies have to be more prepared for it, and more tolerant. 

The above interview was originally broadcast on Facebook Live, Thursday 13 September 2018. 

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